Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Farewell Note

My mother-in-law and I had a decent relationship. We didn't have the type of bond where we loved each other like mother and daughter, but we were friends. She had me over to dinner every Friday night, and never batted an eye when I raided her pantry for gummie bears and Swedish berries. She often brought me back gifts whenever she returned from travelling (which was often), and she was very keen on spoiling Pumpkin with mountains of clothing that she would accumulate after a winter in Florida. She always showed an interest in the ongoings of our life, and never hesitated to express concern where she felt it was required. Naturally we weren't always receptive to her advice, but we know that she offered it because of how much she cared. She was good to us, and I was always appreciative of that. I tried to reciprocate on the dinners every now and again, and made an effort to make sure that she got to see Pumpkin as often as we all had time for. We weren't as close as I would have liked to have been, but we were certainly doing better than a lot of other mother-daughter-in-law situations that I have heard about.

Two weeks ago my MIL passed away after an eight-month battle with cancer. Following her death, and even before, I spent a lot of time with all of my in-laws as they recounted the things that made her such an amazing person. I heard about how much fun she was, how goofy she could act, and how she touched the hearts of so many people. I don't doubt any of this, as there was no lack of sincerity from the people telling these stories, including my SIL, who painted a beautiful picture of her mom as she delivered the eulogy. As Hubby and I poured through old family photos that he was gathering for a slide show that he was putting together, it was apparent that my MIL was the warm, loving person that everyone was crying for. One of the things that saddens me a lot is that I don't think I ever really knew the woman that they were describing. By the time I came into the family, something had changed. It could have been related to the death of her best friend who died of cancer not long before I met my MIL. It could be that some of life's other stresses had taken their toll. It is also possible that the brain tumour that killed her had been growing there for longer than anyone ever detected. I can't say for sure what it was, but overall, I found my MIL to be stressed more than anything else. I never got to be goofy with her. We never had heart to heart discussions with each other. We never really connected, with one exception.

After her initial brain surgery, my MIL wasn't permitted to drive. Around the same time, my FIL had his driver's license taken away for his own health reasons. This left my MIL dependent on the rest of the family to drive her to not only her radiation treatments, but also to anywhere away from her house. The time we spent in the car gave us opportunity to talk a bit. We talked about her disease, but not as if it was a death sentence, but more of an inconvenience that just had to be taken care of so she could get on with her life. We didn't discuss her fears, or what would happen if she couldn't be cured, which is partly because these are such awful things to fathom, but also because that was the nature of our relationship. We just didn't "go there". It was still more discussion than we usually had, which was a good thing, even though she was kind of a captive audience. Then came the day where the doctors told us that the tumour had returned, and was growing faster than they had predicted. Another type of procedure was scheduled for that week, but we had a few days before it would take place. The next night at our usual Friday night dinner, there was some discussion about the upcoming procedure, but as always, the scary stuff was swept under the rug as much as possible. I didn't want to leave that night without saying something about how I understood how frightening this must be for her, but I didn't quite know how to do that. Instead, just before I went home, I wished her luck, and gave her a big hug. Not the usual hands-on-each-other's-shoulders-and-half-kiss-cheek-half-kiss-the-air sort of hug, but a warm embrace that she reciprocated. Then she gave me a motherly type of kiss, and hugged me again. We exchanged nervous smiles, and then I went home. That was our moment. It was warm, it was genuine, and it was our last opportunity. That night, she had her first of many seizures, and never properly regained her cognitive function again. For a while she could still talk, but her memory and ability for conversation had been greatly compromised. Months were spent researching anything and everything that could bring her back to the person she was, but she only deteriorated from there.

Bev, at a time when you could not actually generate words, I just could not find the words to say. I am taking this moment to say goodbye, and promise you that I will take care of the family to the best of my ability. I am so sorry that you won't get to meet your new grandchild, but I will be sure to share with him or her the kind of person that you were, how you looked after everyone, and how you touched the lives of so many. I will forever miss you, as well as the relationship that we were building towards. Hopefully you are at peace now, and have found a way to celebrate today, the day that would have been your 70th birthday, with the same kind of style in which you have always lived your life.